What I yearned. What I earned. What I learned.
I’ve tried a number of pitches by email. No success. The old adage that it just ends up in a sea of emails rings true. Moving forward and manning up, phone calls will be the way. At least you know the commissioning editor has heard your pitch (learn How to Pitch https://johnpaulwilson1.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/how-to-pitch/)
Say yes and quick
Hampshire Writers’ Society emailed me a writing opportunity to review three of the County’s Gardens for a Southampton Airport blog post. I had attended one of the Society’s events and left my email address. I saw the email late one night, an hour or two after it was sent. A moment of deliberation (I have no idea what a Chrysanthemum looks like!) and I had replied with my interest. As it turned out my reply was quickest, so off I trekked around the gardens, with the bonus of free tickets. Given my remit was to describe how great they were, this was arguably PR work. That said, I was credited on a website with huge reach and had the chance to show off my linguistic and photographic skills http://www.southamptonairport.com/news/blog/2014/09/11/hampshire-s-gardens/
The Corporate Dollar
Yes, my desire is to be a journalist, broadcast ideally, but the reality is I have just been rejected from the 2015 BBC Journalism Traineeship after they rejected me for two weeks’ work experience. All of my pitches so far have not been replied to, with the exception of two rejections from The Times and Mail, the former providing some useful advice about how to take my ‘Dear John’ article forward by scrapping the 20 year Definitely Maybe anniversary peg and focusing instead on my journey to find old school friends, as I did https://johnpaulwilson1.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/dear-john/
My first paid job was delivered from a friend on my Masters who was too busy to film a Class, Race and Classical Music talk in London last spring, for a media organisation. Determining what to charge was a hard task as we had little costing knowledge. A cursory Google and we settled on a fee which as it transpired was significantly less than what any other filmmakers would charge. Guess that was why we got the gig. And what a gig! With a fellow MA student, I produced, filmed and edited the talk into a full version, podcast and highlights video. Whilst our technical inexperience was slightly shown up (lighting and sound issues), it was published on The Guardian. Elation ensued. http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/apr/16/class-race-classical-music-debate
The value of the contact with the London based media organisation was shown when I was contacted to produce a paid Classical Music podcast later in the year https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-D_UGT3lAj4
In addition to this, and again with a Masters student I filmed a local council meeting. This was again paid. My contact, who I opportunistically met through my 9-5, initially said they wanted it done for free but I negotiated reasonable payment. So stand tall.
It is February 2015; three months after graduating from my MA Journalism at The University of Winchester and some nine months since pitching began. The rejection is never great but currently somewhat inevitable as I am little known and my access to interesting stories/people is temporarily limited with the exception of my next thrilling project where I look into a mother and a daughter’s separate yet fascinating diaries, looking at events from their two perspectives. The benefits of having my own blog are being reaped now as it gives me the chance to publish and distribute rejected ideas.
Who to interview?
Whilst I crave the story and interview that propels me to the front page of a national newspaper website, the current reality involves smaller scale but certainly not less important endeavour. After completing my final project (filming and editing The Graphical Web 2014 conference https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCreV4SU1BdrbfEVqP49s9xw) I started the very personal ‘Dear John’. This involved interviewing old school friends.
The main learning point was that there can be an emotional consequence of trying to contact friends (old or not) for interviews. I felt much rejection, annoyance and a sense of hurt that many old school friends either, refused, did not respond to my interview request (via Facebook or work email) or expressed interest then went permanently incommunicado. Freelancing involves looking for ideas and those can be about people you know. For example, I contacted via Facebook a former colleague about an interview concerning a family tragedy. I did not receive a response. Likewise with a man who went to my school. His response to my request for a tactful confessional interview about his on-going potentially terminal illness and the effect on his life/family made me consider the morality of my interview request. He considered my request insensitive and impersonal, certainly not my intention.
More positively, I am particularly proud of the positive feedback to my documentation of my grandma’s WW2 nursing memoirs http://www.italystarassociation.org.uk/publications/10 and the letter I wrote to my mother https://johnpaulwilson1.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/dear-mum/ I published the latter on my blog after The Guardian failed to do so as part of their ‘a letter to’ feature.
As a freelancer it is vital that I produce regular content to pitch or, if unsuccessful, put on my blog. This importance is shown by the spikes in visits when I upload content. With this in mind, I decided to write the 3-parter ‘Hangovers from Hell’. This could be considered a shift downmarket and was, whilst showcasing my writing ability, admittedly an attempt to increase readership and raise some chuckles, which it did. I had 138 views on the release day, a personal best https://johnpaulwilson1.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/hangovers-from-hell-number-3/ This was assisted by a considered release schedule. I chose to release hangover #3 on Saturday followed by #2 and #1 on the Sunday. A captive, expectant and loyal audience developed.
Facebook has been key with any articles I produce being placed on my page. The desperate hoping process then commences. I hope that people will like, comment and share. I have learned that a friend sharing your article is often a pipe dream. This came as a surprise and an annoyance. Twitter, my secondary distribution source, offers similarly annoying challenges i.e. how to get retweets/favourites. Whilst followers have not been as active in this area as I wished (to put it mildly) and famous people (including journalists/publications) have not aided me, I did find success elsewhere. My (@snoop2003) success in the Twitter sphere came from tweeting articles to organisations I thought interested in the subject matter e.g. Generation Rent (with my renting tales http://generation-rent.com/money-down-the-drain-and-rats-up-it/), Care bodies with ‘Dear Mum’ or local websites with ‘Dear John’.
The expectation I have has been somewhat checked by these grounding social media experiences. That said, I do not regret embarking on projects like Dear John, which whilst only gaining around 300 You Tube views, resulted in positive feedback, constructive criticism and crucially a conversation about some of the issues raised e.g. confidence, family, friendship.
Perhaps, my lack of an editor is a blessing and a curse. For example, the letter opening video was created in my own vision e.g. a long take of me reading the letter. Yet this artistic blessing (of no editor) could have been my curse resulting in a reduced audience size, an audience who would have perhaps preferred a more visually dynamic sequence with graphics, archive pictures and period music. At least that is what Amanda Farnsworth, BBC Visual Journalism Editor offered me as feedback.
I will learn. I will persist. I will believe. My output will be quality. No doubt.